Let me get this out of the way first – I am not the world’s biggest Disney fan. I leave that title to my wife and oddly, my mother. To be completely honest, one trip to the House of Mouse is more than enough for me and this coming November will mark my second time there in 15 months. How am I able to swing two Disney trips in such a short time? By planning ahead of time and taking advantage of some of the best Disney World hacks out there to make the most of our trip and save a little money along the way.
1. Have a FastPass Strategy
I’ve been to Disneyland, California Adventure and Disney World and I’ve seen firsthand the difference a FastPass makes. The FastPass is the way to reserve access to select Walt Disney World theme park attractions, entertainment and Character Greetings in advance. But when you consider how they market it, you begin to understand why it matters. To get on the rides you (and your kids) want and to enjoy as many rides as possible, you need to stop thinking of them as rides and start thinking of them as attractions.
Disney says on its site that a FastPass lets you “skip the standby line for select attractions, shows and Character Greetings” and that little word “standby” is key. If you are like me, your planning for your first trip to a Disney park probably consisted of looking at the rides, figuring out which ones your kids most wanted to go on and trying to mark the most efficient path for experiencing them without wasting time wandering all over the park. The day of your visit, you just start walking to the rides, perhaps in the most efficient order from a distance perspective. Seasoned Disney fans know better.
Walking up to a ride at Disney without a FastPass is like joining the standby line for a flight you’re trying to get on or a show you’re trying to crash. You’re going to spend a lot more time waiting than people who already have tickets.
The FastPass is free and at Disney World you get up to three of them that you can use on rides up to 60 days out if you are staying at a Disney Resort or 30 days out if you’re not. After your first three FastPasses are used, you can visit kiosks throughout the park to request more FastPasses. When you request a FastPass at a kiosk, you are given a ticket with a time to return to the ride without waiting in line. Depending on how many people have already requested FastPasses for a given ride, your return time may be two hours or ten hours later.
When Mrs. Frugal Rules visited Disneyland last winter with our sons, she figured out which attractions were the most popular and realized that if you don’t want to be riding Space Mountain, for example, at Midnight, you’d better head there first to request your FastPass. In her experience, a FastPass often turned a 60+ minute wait into a 5-minute wait, which ended up creating a much more enjoyable experience for our then four and six year-old sons, who as you can imagine, don’t take well to waiting in lines for over an hour for a 3-minute ride.
2. Divide and Conquer
When my wife and I take our three kids to Disney, we divide and conquer. Each ticket qualifies for three book-ahead FastPasses. So, we find out what rides our kids really want to go on and split up to make the most of the passes. Our middle son LOVES Space Mountain and I hate roller coasters so my wife will be taking him and our oldest on that ride with their first FastPasses while I will be taking our youngest on Peter Pan’s Magic Flight, a much more tame adventure, with our first FastPasses.
If we all went on everything at the same time, we’d get on less rides and not make the most of our passes. By planning out which rides we want to go on at specific times of the day, we’ll get more value from our trip.
If planning out a theme park vacation to this extent seems burdensome or not worth it – believe me, I get you but really, when you’re spending $100 to get in to a park for a day, you want to do all you can to have the best experience possible for your money. Disney knows that and the FastPass is one of the primary ways they help deliver a satisfying experience to their guests.
On the topic of planning, there are a host of apps and tools out there to help you plan out your personal itinerary to the park. Touring Plans is one such popular site. You can purchase their app and create personalized, customizable schedules geared around your family’s desires. It takes into account crowd levels and can even adjust on the fly if you change plans onsite mid-course.
3. Be Willing to Eat Cheap
No Disney World hacks article would be complete without some mention of how to cut expenses and ‘do Disney on a dime’ so to speak. Aside from entry fees and trying to save on lodging by booking a house through VRBO or using credit cards rewards points to stay at a property within the six-mile radius of the Park without actually being a Disney resort, food is one of the main expenses that you can trim with some planning.
We choose to save on food costs by eating breakfast early before we enter the park, packing snacks and eating only one meal on property. While we’ll most likely opt for a fast casual restaurant at Disney World for dinner, you could choose to book one meal at the Crystal Palace, for example, for breakfast and book an early enough time that you are able to get into the Park before it opens and enjoy walking around, nabbing FastPasses or getting in line for your top non-FastPass ride before the general public gets in. Especially if you are visiting Disney World during peak crowd days, you might find value in this expense.
While the meal will cost more than something at a non sit-down restaurant, there are a few buffet options in the Park that might enable fast eating and prime ride scoring without costing too much more.
We usually bring some energy bars, fruit and a few other snacks to get us from breakfast to dinner without spending money and while we may allow our kids to bring home one souvenir, overall we’ll be able to get the most out of our trip with these Disney World hacks without breaking our budget in the process.
What are your favorite Disney World hacks? When was the last time you visited the Magic Kingdom? What would you do differently since that visit? What’s the biggest Disney World mistake you’ve made? Do you think Disney is worth the money?
*Disney provided passes for me to visit and review the park for this story. All thoughts and opinions are my own.